Jeff Brandes – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Bail bond industry, Jeff Brandes spar over sweeping justice reform bill

The Florida Legislature is considering sweeping criminal justice reform measures that have come under fire by the bail bond industry, but the sponsor of one of the bills said Sunday that he is “not in the business of making bail bondsmen money.”

“They are in the business of writing bonds, and their business will go down if more people get diverted to civil citations,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican who is sponsoring SB 1392 and SB 1218, the duo of bills at the heart of the fight.

One of the bills (SB 1218) would require the state to invest in a computer program that uses algorithms to determine the risk of each offender for flight risk and their overall danger level. The bail bonds industry opposes it, arguing it is safer to rely on their expertise than on a computer.

The other bill (SB 1392) would require each judicial district in the state to create diversion programs for adults and juveniles, with the intent of giving local law enforcement agencies a tool that can serve between a warning and an arrest for low-level offenders.

But some in the bail bond industry say there will be no “uniformity” in the state and that some programs pushed by jurisdictions, like the one in Pinellas County, are “flawed.”

“There is no uniformity in the program,” said Matthew Jones, the president of A Way Out Bail Bonds II Inc. “You could possible end up with 67 different qualification programs around the state.”

Jones said he is also concerned about public safety and slammed the program in Pinellas County for allowing those arrested for certain battery misdemeanor charges to participate.

According to data provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the top five offenses for those who participated in its program included, possession of marijuana, retail theft, battery, petit theft and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

If the legislation passes, each judicial district would have the flexibility to implement its own rules and criteria for qualifying offenders, as well as their own fees. Brandes’ bill does not set a blanket fee for the program.

In Florida’ 18th Judicial Court, for example, participants are normally supervised between six months to a year and are required to pay between $370 and $720, plus a $50 prosecution fee.

“Pretrial diversion is a voluntary program,” the website announced in all caps, “therefore, fees are not eligible for reduction or waiver.”

Programs that are currently in place would go not away under the proposal.

To complete a program, participants may have to go through drug treatment, community service, counseling or a combination of all those, at their expense. Those who do not fulfill the program’s requirements could be rearrested.

Advocates say the program has proven to reduce recidivism and in the long run allows adults and juveniles to tumble down employment barriers that would otherwise be there as a result of having a criminal record.

The implementation of these programs statewide would also likely save local governments money since booking and arrest-processing costs are expected to be down, Senate staff wrote in an analysis of the bill. As a result, this could cost the bail bond industry money.

Brandes’ proposal will go before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. It is its last committee stop before it can hit the Senate floor.

The House is also considering a similar diversion program bill, HB 1197 by Pinellas County Republican Rep. Larry Ahern, that is now in its last committee stop.

Run for Something ad highlights unopposed Florida lawmakers with NRA ties

A group supporting a wave of first-time candidates for elected office took out a full-page ad in the Sunday edition of the Sun-Sentinel calling on Floridians to run against NRA-backed state lawmakers in 2018.

The Run for Something ad states “The NRA is killing our kids” at the top and then includes an sheet with the names and NRA letter grades of the lawmakers who are so far unopposed in their re-election campaigns.

On the list are Republican Reps. Bryan Avila, Halsey Beshears, Cord Byrd, Travis Cummings, Brad Drake, Dane Eagle, Jason Fischer, Heather Fitzenhagen, Julio Gonzalez, Michael Grant, Stanley McClain, Jose Oliva, Mel Ponder, Jake Raburn, Holly Raschein, Ray Rodrigues, Rick Roth, Chris Sprowls, Cyndi Stevenson and  Jayer Williamson.

Also included are Republican Sens. Aaron Bean, Jeff Brandes and Kathleen Passidomo.

“These 24 state legislators are running unopposed this November – and they’re complicit in the gun violence in our community,” the ad reads. “Hold them accountable. Run against them. We will help you.”

Run for Something is a political committee founded by former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Litman. The group funds and supports mainly young, progressive candidates for elected offices.

Donald Trump is president, so throw everything you know about politics out the window. You’re qualified to run for local office – we’re here to help,” the group says on its website.

The ad is below.

Run For Something Sun-Sentinel Ad NRA

Easing drug trafficking mandatory minimums headed to Senate floor

Someone caught with oxycodone pills weighing at least 7 grams can be sentenced to a mandatory three-year sentence and fined $50,000 under Florida drug trafficking state laws.

That could soon change for non-violent offenders who are not involved with a criminal organization under a Senate proposal that would allow judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences, but not fines.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Democrat Sen. Randolph Bracy, cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 15-5 vote and now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

The proposal would impact those criminally charged under the drug trafficking statute, whether it be sale, delivery, importation, manufacturing or possession of large quantities of a controlled substance. That would include cocaine, marijuana and opioids such as fentanyl.

A Democrat-sponsored House effort that would seek to reduce sentences for certain drug offenses has not moved in the chamber though. This could show signs of trouble for the proposal with two weeks left in the 2018 legislative session.

The Senate and the House have pushed a series of criminal justice reforms this year, but those seeking to loosen mandatory minimum sentences requirements have not been too welcome in the House. Lobbyist Barney Bishop has also been critical of the measure, saying that it would not help drug addict, but instead aid those with “so much drugs” on them.

Brandes, however, has pushed back on that claim.

“Our point here is largely low level people who are addicts and get involved with heroin and they may purchase heroin that is mixed with fentanyl,” Brandes said.

Graphic school shooting images, footage could soon be exempted from public records

In the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, some lawmakers plan to exempt photos and videos of school shootings from public records laws.

The plan has yet to be codified into a bill, but legislators reached a verbal agreement on Tuesday at the final Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting of the Legislative Session to attempt to tack the exemption onto an existing proposal, SB 1178.  

That bill, sponsored by Chair Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat, as drafted would prevent visual or audio recordings of human killings from being obtained via Florida’s public records laws. Under current laws, members of the media and the general public can request access to a recorded killing if it is held by an agency unless it depicts the death of a law enforcement officer. 

Bracy’s sweeping exemption, however, was not favored by the committee and after being postponed twice before in earlier meetings, members failed the bill on an initial vote.

But then Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, motioned to reconsider the bill. Bracy then called for a recess. 

Upon returning, Bracy gave his word that an amendment would be drafted to “balance” the public’s right to obtaining records with a respect for the incidents that have “been happening across our country and across our state,” an allusion to mass shootings.

“We need to figure out a way to make sure that these photos and depictions are protected,” Bracy said.

Bracy later told Florida Politics that the amendment would “narrow” the public records exemptions provided in his bill to only apply to visual and audio recordings of school shootings. He acknowledged that the provision addresses an aspect of the recent mass shooting in Parkland.  

With Bracy’s promise, the bill cleared the committee unanimously. It now heads to Government Oversight and Accountability and later Rules — although Bracy said the same provision could likely be added onto existing legislation on the Senate floor.

Flu spike shows need for easier access to treatment, lawmakers say

At the peak of one of the worst flu seasons in recent history, some lawmakers are trying to make it easier for sick patients to be diagnosed and treated for the virus. 

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia are sponsoring legislation (SB 524 and HB 431) that would let some pharmacies, under the guidance of a physician, test for and treat influenza.

Brandes said on Wednesday that the proposals come at a time when the flu is especially widespread, which has led to concentrated waiting rooms at medical facilities. He said his bill would provide quicker care to patients.

“This is a very powerful tool that allows somebody to skip the extra step of going to the walk-in clinic or trying to fight for that spot at your local doctor’s office,” Brandes said.

Avon Park Republican Rep. Cary Pigman, who also is an emergency room doctor, has thrown his support behind the initiative.

Pigman said that saturated waiting rooms are common and that allowing pharmacies to handle some of the intake would be beneficial.

On weekends during Session, Pigman said he works shifts at the emergency room.

“There’s more people that need care than we have physicians and nurse practitioners to take care of them,” Pigman said. “We are busy.”

Pigman said the legislation also would help curb the spread of influenza. He said that patients in crowded medical facilities without the flu would have less exposure to patients with the virus.

“Society as a whole is benefited,” Pigman said. Pigman said the bills are balanced, and would still require a physician-trained pharmacist to diagnose and prescribe patients with Tamiflu, a common medicine used to treat the flu in its early stages.

Backing the legislation is the Florida Retail Federation, which represents pharmacists and pharmacies across the state.  

“Simply put, this is lifesaving legislation,” Scott Shalley, president and CEO of Florida Retail Federation, said.

The Senate version of the bill was temporarily postponed in Health Policy earlier this month after the bill was criticized by physicians. The House bill still awaits its first committee hearing.

Bill aiming to curb wastewater discharges advances

After Hurricane Irma swept through the state, power outages resulted in 989 wastewater spills, totaling more than 9 million gallons of unauthorized sewage release.

Legislation (HB 837) sponsored by Plantation Democratic state Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole would attempt to reduce those discharges by helping utilities gain compliance with industry standards. It was advanced unanimously by the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday.

If the bill became law, the voluntary “blue star collection system assessment and maintenance program” would be created to limit the number of unauthorized releases. The program would be administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Blue star certified utilities would be issued a 10-year permit for the same fee and under the same conditions as a five-year permit upon approval of its application renewal by DEP if the utility demonstrates that it is in compliance and does not have any pending enforcement action against it by the EPA, the DEP or a local program.

Coconut Creek Democrat Kristin Jacobs asked Edwards-Walpole if there was any hurdle the utilities needed to overcome initially to get into the five-year certification if they previously were responsible for excessive power failures.

Edwards-Walpole admitted that there would be some “perpetual bad actors,” who don’t have any incentive to get into the program. This bill would simply allow them to be rolled from a five-year permit to a 10-year one if they performed ably enough.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, who championed a version of the same bill a year ago that failed to make it to the governor’s desk.

In the past two years, according to DEP, there were just over 1,000 spills related to a loss of power, including some significant ones in the Tampa Bay area.

Sewage spills in St. Petersburg and south Pinellas were so prevalent in 2016 that the issue became a major talking point for critics of incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, who faced a daunting reelection campaign in 2017 that at times was dominated by his handling of the sewage situation. The city has since committed to spending more than $300 million to fix sewers by 2021.

House panel advances bill adding protections to cellphone searches

A House proposal that would change the way law enforcement officers get their hands on data from a person’s cellphone was pushed on Tuesday to its last committee assignment.

Republican state Rep. Jamie Grant said his bill (HB 1249) would require police to “reflect constitutional due process” when they search a person’s phone-location records as well as data from microphone-enabled household devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

“At the founding of our country the Fourth Amendment is the most important protection and technology has made it more challenging,” said Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd, who chairs the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee where the bill was last heard.

With no questions or debate, and the Public Defenders Association and Florida Smart Justice Alliance waiving in support, the measure passed unanimously. Now it heads to the Judiciary Committee, where Grant said there will be an opportunity to further discuss tweaks in policy to the bill.

Under the House bill, law enforcement officers would need probable cause and a court-issued warrant to search a person’s cellular device. Officers would need to install a mobile-tracking device within 10 days of obtaining the warrant and would only have access to the location data for 45 days, unless the court grants an extension for the search.

The measure also would widen the scope of activity in which a person can be charged for accessing another person’s phone without permission. Under the bill, reading emails or emails on another person’s phone or laptop without permission would be a crime.

If someone accesses a phone’s data without permission for the purpose of destroying the data or commercial gain, it could be punishable by up to a year in county jail.

House staff analysis said the state prison population would “insignificantly” increase.

The companion bill (SB 1256) in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, has also been moving along in the upper chamber. Both measures differ in that Brandes’ bill would offer protections to businesses that access information from an electronic device if the data “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Brandes’ bill is up for consideration Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

USFSP students ‘apprehensive and confused’ over consolidation

“Concerned, apprehensive, and confused.”

That’s the mood on the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus over the proposed consolidation of the USF System, USF St. Pete student government leaders say.

In a letter to GOP lawmakers who are pushing consolidation legislation, student body officials set out their concerns over the proposal to phase out the separate accreditation for the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses, which had been under the radar till last month.

“We represent a Student Body that is concerned, apprehensive, and confused as to what the accreditation consolidation of the USF System means for the future of this campus,” wrote Student Body President David D. Thompson, Senate President Emilie Morris and Chief Justice Richard Marini.

That was in a letter to state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican.

The initiative, which has roiled the business and political establishment in St. Petersburg in the past two weeks, will spread the benefits of the Tampa campus’ rising reputation and funding to St. Pete and Sarasota, Sprowls has said.

Further, USF System President Judy Genshaft says the consolidation could help students graduate faster and with less debt by providing a wider variety of course options and majors, including those in health care and engineering.

As the legislation moves through committees on both sides of the Legislature, the USFSP student body leaders want the Campus Board to be retained and expanded to include a student representative with voting rights; that there be student representation from USFSP in a transition task force that will make recommendations for the future of the USF System, and that leadership on the St. Pete campus “must be empowered to honor and continue to make commitments to sustainability,” among other things.

“We believe that all current parties are working in what they believe is the best interest of the students at USFSP,” Thompson, Morris and Martini write.

“Moving forward, it should be clear that if there is any suggestion or inclination that this consolidation will be used to hamper the progress of USFSP or hinder student success, we will not only vocalize our opposition but use the powers vested in us by the State of Florida to actively oppose this legislation.”

GOP lawmaker wants Lorde’s Florida concerts canceled because of involvement with BDS movement

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lorde is scheduled to perform in Tampa and Miami this April, but one Republican lawmaker says her shows should be canceled due to her involvement in the BDS movement.

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israel government for its treatment of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The 21-year-old’s involvement in the movement became known in December, when she cancelled a concert scheduled to take place in Israel this spring.

Palm Bay Republican Randy Fine says that under Florida law, no state or local government can conduct business exceeding $1 million with any organization engaged in a boycott of Israel.

“Florida has no tolerance for anti-Semitism and boycotts intended to destroy the State of Israel,” said Fine. “That’s why Florida passed groundbreaking anti-BDS legislation several years ago and why, along with Senator Jeff Brandes, I have proposed strengthening that legislation this year. Current statutes are clear – local governments cannot do business with companies that participate in anti-Semitic boycotts of Israel. When Lorde joined the boycott in December, she and her companies became subject to that statute.

Fine insists that, “the taxpayers of Miami and Tampa should not have to facilitate bigotry and anti-Semitism, and I look forward to the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Tampa Sports Authority complying with the law and cancelling these concerts.”

Lorde is scheduled to perform at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Wednesday, April 11 and at the American Airlines Theater in Miami on Thursday, April 12.

Calls to the Tampa Sports Authority and the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority were not returned for comment.

The BDS movement originated on college campuses in the U.S. in the early aughts. It is extremely controversial, with pro-Israel organizations accusing the movement of being fueled by anti-Semitism.

Lorde’s decision to cancel her concert in Tel Aviv made her the latest artist to cancel an Israel concert following pressure from the BDS movement, joining Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Thurston Moore, Lauryn Hill and more. Not all popular artists agree obviously. Both Radiohead and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds went ahead with planned shows in Israel last year, despite fierce criticism from the BDS-aligned artists.

Both Fine and Brandes were in session in the Legislature on Thursday afternoon and were also not available to comment.

With hundreds dying from the flu, lawmakers choose inaction

Facing of one of the deadliest flu epidemics in the history of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, a Senate committee temporarily postponed a measure which would give Floridians greater access to antiviral medication, critical in the treatment of the flu and strep.

SB 524, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, would allow a pharmacist to test for and treat influenza — in collaboration with a physician, through a rigorously written protocol approved by the doctor.

While these services are well within the education and expertise of pharmacists, the bill required additional training approved by the state Board of Medicine. In addition to the strict medical protocols, SB 524 also mandates pharmacists to carry $200,000 in professional liability insurance, to test and treat for influenza virus and streptococcal infections.

“It’s all about access,” Brandes told members of the Senate Health Policy Committee.

However, physicians oppose the bill, arguing pharmacists were not adequately trained to treat or diagnose the illness.

Among those speaking to the committee included a doctor of internal medicine, adding a level of confusion to what should have been a very straightforward proposal. This physician claimed SD 524 would allow pharmacists to diagnose and prescribe.

Unfortunately, this is untrue. There would be no diagnosis by a pharmacist under the proposal.

Used in the process are simple (and accurate) devices which detect whether the disease is present, employing a procedure that takes as little as three minutes. There would be no prescribing by a pharmacist. Strict guidelines are laid out by a physician — in meticulous detail — describing what a pharmacist is allowed to do in the case of a positive or negative test.

The doctor also told senators that flu tests are only “60 percent sensitive,” an interesting statistic, considering Food and Drug Administration requires flu tests be at least 90 percent sensitive for influenza A to even be used in the United States.

There are currently 10 FDA approved rapid diagnostic tests to screen for influenza and that the tests can give results within about 15 minutes. These devices are the same ones now used in doctor’s offices.

If such devices are not good enough for pharmacists, why would they be used in doctor’s offices and hospitals?

What’s more, the doctor acknowledged he does not even see flu patients face-to-face — admitting he only talks to them on the phone and writing a prescription based on the conversation.

In another contradiction, this doctor said the best treatment for flu is hand-washing and rest — yet still prescribes antivirals over the phone. Antivirals only decrease the longevity of the disease by about 24 hours, he said, but antivirals also decrease the severity of symptoms, which can lead to life-threatening complications like pneumonia.

In the end, the real reason all of the doctors and associations were standing in opposition to the bill: they are trying to protect their profession.

Allowing pharmacists to perform these services is eroding primary care, he said, and that pharmacists are trying to “replace” primary care physicians.

Over 30 percent of people in Florida currently do not have primary care physicians. Without such access, patients will go either without care or end up in the hospital.

Early antiviral treatment shortens the duration of fever and flu symptoms, reducing the risk of complications. Reports show, in some cases, early treatment can even prevent death.

The best clinical benefit for the flu is through early administration of antiviral treatment, especially within 48 hours of onset of symptoms. Quick access to care is imperative to saving lives and controlling the spread of disease.

Hospitals are more crowded than in the 2014-2015 flu season — the previous record of 710,000 Americans needing medical care to beat the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitals, urgent care centers, and doctor’s offices are all full — a situation further aggravated by the state’s doctor shortage.

In Florida, access to care is getting increasingly worse. But with 86 percent of the population living within 5 miles of a pharmacy and many 24-hour options, pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals for a majority of Floridians.

Allowing pharmacists to test and treat influenza will save lives and decrease the spread of the disease — keeping people out of crowded hospitals and reducing the duration of the disease.

Why is the Senate refusing to act, especially when it saves lives?

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